Separating Facts From Rumors
By Lea Davidson
From the moment the COVID-19 vaccination campaign began, PUAH’s phone lines have been ringing off the hook. As an organization well-known throughout the greater Jewish community for helping couples fulfill their dreams of building a healthy family, hundreds of anxious women were now turning to us to get their questions answered: Will the vaccine affect my fertility? Or: There are rumors that the vaccine can cause miscarriages. Is this true?
In response to this great and urgent demand for answers to these and other concerns about the vaccine, PUAH produced a livestream webinar on January 5 about the new COVID-19 vaccine as it relates to women’s health.
The large attendance of over 2,600 viewers showed just how eager women were for real information from the experts about this vaccine, and to clear up the confusion of all the rumors swirling around. Our program featured two world-renowned medical experts: Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt and Dr. Eve Feinberg.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt is the associate rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere and also the chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
Dr. Feinberg is an associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also serves as the REI Fellowship program director as well as the medical director for Northwestern Fertility and Reproductive Medicine. Dr. Feinberg was able to contribute a unique and highly significant insider’s perspective to this discussion as a member of the ASRM (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) COVID-19 Task Force as well as the joint COVID-19 Task Force of ASRM/ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) / IFFS (International Federation of Fertility Societies). As such, she has closely studied the nature of the vaccine and its relationship with conception and fetal development.
The event was moderated by Rabbi Elan Segelman, PUAH’s rabbinic director.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt opened the evening by explaining that, despite the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the science behind the vaccine is not novel at all. Dr. Feinberg then pointed out that the same scientific technique has been successfully used in the field of oncology for more than a decade. In addition, this technique does not use any part of the actual coronavirus, making it impossible for the vaccine to cause any risk of contracting COVID or of testing positive for COVID. Rabbi Glatt added that while there have been some cases of people testing positive following their first dose of the vaccine, this was not a result of the vaccine; these individuals had all been unknowingly harboring the virus prior to their inoculation.
The evening was full of fascinating medical and halachic discussions, including the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women. On this topic, Dr. Feinberg stated unequivocally, “There is no thought, there is no data, that shows that an mRNA vaccine would negatively impact fetal development; it doesn’t actually cross the placenta at all.” She went on to explain that a pregnant woman who receives the vaccine with mRNA will develop antibodies but then the mRNA leaves; it does not pass into the fetus. Therefore, this woman will now have antibodies to fight off the coronavirus. There is no reason, she said, to wait until a certain point in the pregnancy to receive the vaccine—at no point is there a risk of harm to the fetus. The doctors also reassured the listeners that a lactating woman can safely receive the vaccine, and Rabbi Dr. Glatt suggested that the new antibodies from the mother may even be beneficial to the baby!
Towards the end of the webinar, Rabbi Segelman asked Dr. Feinberg to discuss her experiences as a member of the various task force committees. Were there any disagreements amongst the various physicians regarding the safety of the vaccine for pregnancy or fertility? Dr. Feinberg described how the task force studied the data intensively as it was published and scrupulously considered the safety profile, with a particular eye towards conception and pregnancy. She mentioned that although there were disagreements during the earlier stages of their research, by the end there was a unanimous final decision that the vaccine is absolutely safe. She noted that as a fertility specialist, she strongly recommends that her patients get vaccinated even in the middle of their fertility treatments. This recommendation is in accordance with leading health organizations such as: American Society of Reproductive Medicine, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, International Federation of Fertility Societies, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the CDC.
Wrapping up the evening, Rabbi Segelman asked both presenters for closing remarks. Rabbi Dr. Glatt emphasized that the vaccine is both safe and effective. He informed the listeners that in order to achieve the utmost success in eradicating the coronavirus, the entire community must vaccinate—even those who are not in the “high risk” bracket. Getting vaccinated, he said, is a mitzvah, and some rabbis have even ruled that one should recite the blessing of “HaTov V’HaMeitiv” upon receiving the vaccine. Dr. Feinberg thanked Rabbi Segelman and PUAH for organizing this important webinar and urged the community to get vaccinated in order to overcome and finally defeat the coronavirus pandemic.
Rabbi Segelman thanked the presenters for educating and empowering the listeners to make the most appropriate medical and halachic decision. He closed the presentation by reminding everyone to consult with their personal doctor and rabbi to determine the best course of action for them.
Before signing off, Rabbi Segelman encouraged all listeners to reach out to PUAH’s confidential hotline with any questions related to reproductive health. The hotline number is 718-336-0603, and e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit puahfertility.org for more information.